Born out of necessity, many schools in South Africa have taken to alternative means of education and resource management such as removing textbooks from classrooms or using solar power to provide electricity.

Orefile Primary School in Midrand, Gauteng – often referred to as the first green school in SA – is making some interesting additions to their campus.

The school has already put solar panels on its roof to supply classrooms with electricity, but its latest installation is particularly interesting: solar-powered toilets that do not make use of traditional sewerage pipelines.

solar toilet
The bacterial process and nano-technology is powered by a solar panel on the cubicle’s roof.

The uniquely South African system was invented by Professor Mulalo Doyoyo, and makes use of “a self-recycling waste system, which includes anaerobic digestion and nano-technology that uses advanced manufacturing and engineering techniques.”

In short, it’s an environmentally-friendly toilet system that uses bacteria and nano-technology to break down the waste matter in an adapted treatment tank buried in the ground – all powered by the sun. And in the event that it becomes too full, waste water (which naturally has all the nasties removed) is pumped into the ground.

The blue doors are for the boys.

“This is a truly South African project and it also makes us the first green school in the country. In the past, the Department of Education decided to build this school with cementless concrete, and the water that we use is afterwards reused for other things. The toilets that we have added is one of the best features, as it is solar-powered. As far as we know, it is the first solar-powered toilets used in a school in the world,” said Clever Shukwambane, principal at Orefile Primary School.

The toilets cost around R50 000, which includes the infrastructure and installation, and can serve around 100 kids. While it sounds like a lot, Doyoyo explains that in the long run it works out cheaper as it’s completely self-sustaining.

Professor Mulalo Doyoyo (PhD FRSA), who invented the system.
Professor Mulalo Doyoyo (PhD FRSA), who invented the solar sanitary system.

“The key point on these toilets is that they need virtually no service. As long as nobody puts diapers or something like that in there, they can run on their own for almost forever. There is one weakness though, and that is that you can’t use any cleaning chemicals in the bowls.”

He added that there is a huge benefit to making use of this particular kind of lavatory: “With these toilets, they use nano-technology and bio tech to process the water. It’s like a miniature waste treatment plant. It is more expensive than regular toilets and mobile toilets, but you don’t have to deal with the dumping of waste or the maintenance thereof. The cost of manufacturing is the only cost that you will have with these.”

This pipe outside the cubicle delivers the waste to an underground tank.

Technology distributor Mustek helped with the installation of the toilets, and Michael Cassidy, head of Renewable Energy at the firm, explained their role:

“As part of our CSI program, we donate to projects that are mainly in education, and we have been doing it for several years. For this, we decided to do something different and looked around at schools for a suitable candidate for the solar power toilets, and decided to go to the green school in South Africa.”

He also pointed out that Mustek is the only company that has a certificate on a process, and not just the equipment, and pointed out that it is one of the most cost-effective systems on the market right now.

While the primary school is the only school at the moment that makes use of the solar-powered sanitation technology, Doyoyo feels strongly that other educational institutions in South Africa and abroad should also makes use of it.

“As engineers, we start to produce things on our own and then export them. Why can’t we export these things to the UK? We can’t we give them a bit of a spanking? These toilets could also be used as an extension of a shower, and represent a solution to an African problem,” Doyoyo says.